Can the Tigers knuckle down?

Mustafizur ruled out

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Just as the returns of ODI skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan and the likely comeback of Tamim Iqbal seemed to be bolstering Bangladesh, they suffered a major blow when one of their best bowlers, Mustafizur Rahman, twisted his ankle during warm-up yesterday and was ruled out of today’s first ODI to be played at the Diamond Oval in Kimberley from 2:00pm (Bangladesh time).

Even so, the situation ahead of the ODI series against South Africa is not as bleak as it was a fortnight ago for Bangladesh. That is mainly because of the format, as ODIs are the format in which the team have truly come of age. As it stands now, it is a balancing act — on the one hand there is Bangladesh’s proven track record evidenced recently in their run to the Champions Trophy semifinal, on the other is their dismal showing in the Test series this tour. On one hand is the fact that the last time these two sides met, Bangladesh emerged 2-1 winners by clinching the last two ODIs in Dhaka and Chittagong in 2015, but their record in South Africa — going back to their first ODI here in October 2002 — reads 10 losses from 11 matches, with the other one being a rain-induced no-result against the hosts in 2008.

The balance — already tilted in the home team’s favour by virtue of the aforementioned stat — was tilted further by Mustafizur’s injury. Balancing that is the fact that Tamim is likely to return, seemingly having adequately recovered from the thigh muscle tear that kept him out of the second Test as he appeared to be running with a measure of comfort during training yesterday.

With the blow of the missing Fizz incurred, it becomes even more imperative for Bangladesh to play smart cricket today if the seventh-ranked team are to have a chance of drawing first blood against the team ranked second in ODIs. Skipper Mashrafe talked about the importance of putting the Tests behind them and taking the field with positive, attacking intent. With the conditions set to be terribly windy across a ground that is open on all sides except one, local nous will come in handy, and that places Bangladesh at a further disadvantage.

Kimberley has not been a happy hunting ground for Bangladesh. In two matches against South Africa in 2002 and New Zealand during the 2003 World Cup, Bangladesh have failed to cross 200 and were beaten by seven wickets both times.

On a pitch that has seen just two scores of 300 or more in the 12 ODIs here, but one which South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir had said on Thursday was a flat track, the batsmen will need to cash in. And that is the difficulty for Bangladesh. On the four matches on tour so far, including the two practice games, there have been 10 scores of fifty from Bangladesh, but none higher than the 77 scored by Mominul Haque in the first Test.

According to Mashrafe, the change from the Test series has to be mental as there is not enough time to transform skills. In that sense, it will be interesting to see whether Bangladesh can get over their hurdle of gifting away starts with the bat. South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis said that which team uses the 30kmph-plus winds to their advantage will also be crucial — and that means batsmen targeting hitting with the wind on a large ground and the captain using spinners from the right end. These are things that Bangladesh, and Mashrafe in particular, will have to be mindful of when they take the field today.

They then have to contend with the return of bating maestro AB de Villiers, and without Mustafizur that will become tougher. In the left-hand pacer’s absence, it may open the door for a Mohammad Saifuddin debut or mean that both Taskin Ahmed and Rubel Hossain will play. The pitch is unlikely to spin much and that may work against Mehedi Hasan Miraz playing, instead making way for Nasir Hossain, who may form a part-time set with Mahmudullah Riyad, with Shakib Al Hasan being the main spinner.

On the batting side, Tamim’s likely return will push out Liton Das from the top order that played the practice match on Thursday, and Imrul Kayes’s fast start in that match will probably win him a place over Mominul Haque.

The odds are still stacked against Bangladesh, but with the returns of Mashrafe, Shakib and possibly Tamim the whole team will be a bit more positive, and as long as they can be smart about it, it promises to be a good game.

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